Safety Harbor Development (SHD) has spoken out against St. Petersburg City Council for sinking a referendum that could have made the company responsible for the city’s municipal pier over the next 25 years.
On Aug. 7, councilmember Robert Blackmon, on his Facebook page, shared a Catalyst article reporting on the council’s refusal to vote to allow the referendum to go before voters. On the post, Blackmon copied this quote from the article: Councilmember Robert Blackmon reiterated his stance that such a valuable public asset should be kept public. Blackmon said that the city should “bond out” and is giving up “any of our rights to ROI for a renovation loan.” He added that a representative of the Chamber of Commerce and multiple other people changed their opinions to the point where “nobody is for the proposal put before us.”
Blackmon also captioned that he promised to “fight this proposal and keep the marina in our hands. On Thursday, we delivered.”
Darby Campbell, President of Safe Harbor Development LLC, commented on the post that “City (is) bidding project now, so let’s see how much you helped the city. I think you just cost the city millions and (are) pulling it away from people who needed it the most.”
Blackmon told the Catalyst he does not know what Darby was referring to when he said: “people that need it the most.”
“All of our residents are are equally deserving of a publicly accessible, affordable waterfront,” said Blackmon. “The marina shouldn’t just be for the ultra-rich, and the law of economics states that anytime you put in a middleman, there will always be an increased price to pay.”
The Catalyst reached out to Campbell for further comment, to which SHD responded with a statement. In part, it said that the company was disappointed in the city council’s decision not to act on either the five-year, short-term lease or the referendum allowing voters to decide on the longer 25-year lease for redevelopment and management of the municipal pier.
“We are currently waiting to see how the city’s internal cost comparison information comes out before we choose any future moves on our part,” it read. “We are still very much interested in this project and believe we have the experience and knowledge to redevelop this marina into a world-class facility that all the citizens of St. Pete will be proud of.”
The statement added that city administration considering SHD’s plans as the best option moving forward “is proof of the quality of our concepts and plans.” It also said SHD was confident that when the city receives the pricing to conduct renovations on its own, “it will be evident that Safe Harbor can save the taxpayers of St. Pete millions of dollars.”
The statement concluded that SHD “looks forward when this is as obvious to the city council as it has been to the administration and our team.” It was then signed “The Safe Harbor Team.”
City council and SHD should not have to wait very long for the bids for privately renovating to be announced. At a previous council meeting, it was unanimously voted to send the matter to the Public Services and Infrastructure Committee meeting on Sept. 16. Kevin King, Chief of Policy and Engagement for the Mayor’s Office, told the Catalyst that the City Development Administration will present a side-by-side analysis of what it would cost the city to bid this out versus SHD handling development.
“We’re on a short timeframe, but I know the staff is hustling – it’ll probably be very close to that meeting date,” said King.
King explained that while some councilmembers were initially receptive to a five-year lease, it did not look like city administration would get the six votes necessary to move forward. It was then decided to let residents vote on the fate of the project through the referendum, as he said was some council members’ wishes at the time. However, King said the agreement had to be extended – as city council has the right to vote on anything lasting 10 years or less. He also said the longer term would be better for the city and the company. The city then came back with the 25-year referendum, which was a non-starter for the council.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed that the voters aren’t going to be given a voice on that,” said King.
King said it was now too late to land on this November’s ballot, but the city still believes having a private management company take responsibility for the municipal marina – as they do with other marinas – is the right course of action moving forward.
“So, this Safe Harbor Development remains the best option,” said King. “Mayor Kriseman is going to continue to move forward on this issue as best he can.”
Safe Harbor Development is based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and has no previous relationship with the city outside of the municipal marina proposals.